The Growing Tobacco Transplant

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Tobacco trays have been seeded and the young transplants have emerged in their tray cells as small but strong plants. In ideal situations, transplants grow in the greenhouse for 60 days before being planted in the field. Tobacco trays are commonly made of styrofoam and have 338 cells for tobacco transplants to grow in. Before being seeded the trays are filled with a soilless tobacco growing medium. This medium has very little nutrients in it but actively absorbs water once it is exposed. After this occurs the tray’s cells get a single seed per tray. These trays are then floated in a couple inches of water to start the production process. Once the trays are floated out in the greenhouse they may be irrigated from overhead to help the seed germinate. Ideally all of your seeds will germinate at the same time so they can compete with each other.

Currently greenhouses are being carefully fertilized to help transplants develop a strong root system. The greenhouse float beds have been fertilized once already and will be fertilized again in the near future. Farmers carefully apply fertilizer to avoid salt injury in the transplants. Salt injury can occur from excessive fertilizer in the cells. Fertilizer supplies nutrients as salts and can accumulate at a higher rate in the soil medium if applied at too high of a rate. Nitrogen and Potassium are available at the highest amounts which tend to be between 100 and 150 parts per million in the water! Another problem with having too much fertilizer in the float system is the increased risk of plant diseases.

Once your tobacco transplant gets above two inches in height it is important to clip the tobacco transplant back slightly to achieve a uniform height with all of your transplants. This does not mean farmers are clipping each of the thousands of transplants by hand but by using a rotary mower that has a vacuum in it to catch the plant debris. These mowers are very similar to the mowers you use to cut your lawn. Promoting uniform growth in the greenhouse gives the plants the best chance for success when they are transplanted into the field in late April.

Please call me if you have any questions about other production practices at North Carolina Cooperative Extension- Lee County Center, 919-775-5624.

Jared Butler is the Agriculture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.